Brentina’s History-Making Career with Rider Debbie McDonald
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April 22, 2021
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
Brentina and her partner Debbie McDonald strode across the globe in a decade of appearances that included two Olympics, two World Equestrian Games, the first U.S. partnership to win the World Cup and along the way become beloved not only to Americans but horse lovers everywhere.
The loss of Brentina at the age of 31, just not able any longer to stand, was heart-wrenching both for Debbie and those who had been close to the Hanoverian mare but also for fans around the world who were familiar with the pair making history.
Brentina’s American life began when Peggy Thomas, the wife of Parry Thomas for whom the University of Nevada stadium in Las Vegas that became the stage of several World Cups of dressage and jumping, bought the mare at the 1994 Elite Auction in Verden, Germany for her to ride at their Idaho farm. But when she was bucked off, the ride was turned over to Debbie, then a long-time hunter-jumper rider and nursing a bad back.
Success was not long in coming for the Hanoverian mare (Brentano II x Lungau) bred by Wilhelm Rethorst in Germany.
For the first three years, the couple moved up the national rankings. By 1998, international CDI was on the schedule.
Debbie and Brentina made their first international championship appearance at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada that was at small tour of Prix St. Georges and Intermediate I, and left with team and individual gold medals.
Later the same year, the pair captured the first of three consecutive U.S. Grand Prix championships (the championships were not held in 2000).
With mentoring from Klaus Balkenhol, the German Olympic gold medal rider who was U.S. team coach for eight years, Debbie and Brentina set off on a succession of seven years of top sport championships.
First the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. In three previous events that had been held since creation of the World Games, the U.S. took team bronze in the Hague in 2004.
Led by Debbie and Brentina, the U.S. team that included Lisa Wilcox on Relevant, Sue Blinks on Flim Flam and
Günter Seidel on Nikolaus captured silver. Debbie and Brentina were fourth in the individual competition–a result that led to one foreign publication to headline: “Debbie Was Robbed!”
The combination staged perhaps the most successful individual performance nine months later by becoming the first American World Cup champion, at Gothenburg, Sweden in 2003. The victory in the annual championship centered on the Freestyle–the pair’s performances were best known for Aretha Franklin’s rendition of “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”– has been achieved only once since then, by Steffen Peters on Ravel in 2009.
At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Debbie and Brentina led the U.S. to team to bronze with a squad that included Robert Dover on Kennedy, Günter Seidel on Aragon and Lisa Wilcox on Relevant and followed up with third place at the World Cup Final in Las Vegas in 2005.
In the period of 14 months from the end of 2003 to early 2005–when rankings were based on total rider results and not combinations–Debbie was ranked No. 2 in the world for a total of eight months while she was competing Brentina.
In 2006, Debbie and Brentina were again on the U.S. team at the World Games in Aachen, Germany, this time taking bronze.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics, with equestrian sports held in Hong Kong because of quarantine requirements, was a disappointment for the U.S. with the team that included Debbie on Brentina and Steffen Peters on Ravel disqualified when one of three combinations required for a team result was disqualified.
Debbie and Brentina did not compete again.
However, Brentina remained a presence at the Thomas family’s River Grove Farm in Hailey, Idaho.